Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Top 10: Asian crime fiction

"If you only looked at size of population, you'd expect China and India to dominate any list like this, but in fact it is Japan which has taken crime fiction to its bosom," writes novelist Catherine Sampson in the preface to her top ten list of Asian crime fiction for the Guardian. "In China, politics adds a thick layer of complication. To write about crime in China - however fictional - is to advertise the fact that Chinese society is not an entirely harmonious and benign thing. Of course, China's leaders are a lot more tolerant than they once were when it comes to literature, but it's still sensitive, and crime fiction is a small but growing genre. The Beijing that I see around me, with its speed-of-light economic growth, its social dislocation, its constantly migrating population and its quagmire of corruption, is a verdant pasture for crime fiction. And its political claustrophobia is the perfect environment for a private eye who is an honourable man struggling against a system that threatens to overwhelm him."

I've only read one of the titles on Sampson's list, I'm glad to say (because it means I've got all the others to look forward to):
The Quiet American by Graham Greene

When I visited Saigon several years ago, this book was photocopied and sold on stalls throughout the city. A mystery and so much more - this is a classic tale of a romantic triangle, violent politics and murder. Many of the books on this list have been written by Asians who have left Asia, at least for a while. Several of the books by non-Asian's, like this one and HRF Keating's take an expatriate community as their focus. As a writer who is not Asian but dares to write about Asia, I think it can be done. But there are few non-Asian writers who manage to make Asia, and one searing point in history, so utterly alive as Graham Greene.
Read about Number One on Sampson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue